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Forging Ahead Editorially, Part I

Posted on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at 12:47 PM

Keep improving despite today's editorial challenges.

By Howard Rauch

It seems like today's editors spend overtime worrying about the future. I've found that true in my work with B2B editors. With good reason, of course. Identifying challenges is easy enough. Arriving at solutions is another story. Two concerns topping my dilemma hit list:

First: In a do-more-with-less environment, where are editorial cutbacks most likely to come? How many staffs already have their hands full dealing with print and online responsibilities?

Second: How many sales teams will push harder for obvious editorial hooks? Instead, could they do much better by learning how to sell big-picture quality content capable of drawing high readership?

Regarding the first, we can improve our lot to some extent by upgrading or abandoning long followed procedures. Moreover, there are plenty of good ideas floating around waiting to have their day in court.

As for the second, don't get me started. We all know that in many typical griping sessions, the air is filled with invective about the way our magazines are sold. But I believe the more pressing shortcoming can be found in the way our magazines are bought.

That said, here are five possible ideas that fall into the first category either of a marketing or management nature:

1. Do a better job of raising our prestige flag. We provide the equivalent of thousands of dollars of information -- many times free of charge -- to help our readers run their businesses better. We do original research, attend dozens of industry events, and report back on the most important developments, sponsor conferences, and trade shows ... and, of course, websites. As an aside, and something we need to understand, advertisers learn a lot about their markets from our input. We have editorial staffs who have followed their fields and industries for years, and are in a great position to provide an authoritative assessment of where the market is heading. I'm sure you'd all agree with that observation. But somewhere along the way, awareness of our accomplishments has gotten lost in the shuffle. As editors, we need to do a better job of waving the flag of expertise in marketing situations, because nobody can do it better!

2. Create an editorial portfolio that livens up marketing presentations. This is my personal favorite. When I describe the device for collecting and showcasing editorial achievement at sales meetings, usual response is enthusiastic. But developing and updating the portfolio is time-consuming. So it's not surprising -- but certainly disappointing -- that in 30 years of consulting, I have seen only two companies test the concept. Most recently, I assisted a British online firm in putting a project together. Typical contents should include:

--Editorial columns that draw terrific response by hitting industry hot buttons.

--Reports on speeches given by editors at major industry events, articles describing industry awards conferred on editors, or other evidence of industry involvement.

--Excerpts from important exclusive research published in your magazine.

--Evidence of presence at major industry events, such as coverage of key legislative conventions or legislative hearings. And it pays to indicate that such events are widely scattered geographically.

--Especially where editorial travel has been drastically scaled back, articles demonstrating that your staff constantly makes field trips is a portfolio "must-have."

--Proof of your association with industry movers and shakers, such as exclusive interviews with top executives of major companies and key organizations.

--General indications of editorial leadership -- how the publication or website deals with important industry issues -- such as research, columns, or scoops where your editors addressed a critical development before any competitors.

--Samples of reader response. Powerful evidence can take the form of e-mails responding to a compelling editorial column or an offer of free high-value information.

3. Why should someone want to work for you? Today's screening process, in many ways, is scary. We say we want to attract star graduates into our companies. But some of us can't possibly get there unless we mend our ways. Consider that human resources folks doing initial candidate screening may not fully understand the editorial process and are unable to explain the job. Sometimes it takes three or four visits -- or more -- before a hire is made. When an astute promising grad asks about salary and benefits, the interviewer clams up! When the same candidate asks about growth prospects, he or she can't get an answer ... because the employer still hasn't figured it out. Instead we should try to accomplish screening in two visits maximum. Initial screening occupies Day One, where you are in a position to tell the candidate enough to make that person want to return for Day Two. Can you articulate a three-year growth plan on Day One of your screening? If not, work on it! Also be prepared to talk about training. For the small firm, training can be something as simple as an hour a day for the first days of a new recruit's employment.

4. Offer the highest possible e-news enterprise delivery. Yes, there's that "more with less" cloud rising up. But you have no choice. Online vulnerability is widely scattered -- perhaps even true in your case. Over the past seven years, I have posted an annual e-news delivery study showing that articles reflecting enterprise reporting account for a mere 35 percent of total output. The rest is mostly PR announcement rewriting or posting of unedited announcements. Instead we must raise enterprise level to at least 85 percent ... and that's just for starters. This year Editorial Solutions introduced a way to calculate enterprising news effort. Imagine the impact if you are paddling along at the 35 percent level while your competition operates in the 85 percent range or higher!

5. Sponsor in-house editorial expertise competition. Several firms do this already. But how about running an annual in-house editorial idea fair. Booths reflect innovations in story coverage and graphics that work for you. On a lesser but still significant scale, sponsor an annual best cover competition. I recently judged such an event where editors shared thinking about how to build maximum storytelling value into cover lines.

Howard Rauch is president of Editorial Solutions, Inc., a B2B consultation provider launched in 1989. His specialties are e-news delivery, competitive analysis, and editorial performance measurement. He has written two books: Get Serious About Editorial Management and Get Serious About Competitive Editorial Analysis. Howard is recipient of ASBPE's Lifetime Achievement Award and spent two terms as chairman of the group's ethics committee.

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